Staffan och Herodes

This haunting carol associated with Lucia celebrations goes by many names, including Ut Kommer Staffan, Staffansvisan från Vittskövle, and Vittskövlevisan — that last one is how Jul i Folkton recorded it, and that’s how I learned it. (There’s also the better-known Staffansvisan/Staffan Stalledräng – for two deep dives into the history and meaning of these songs, check out this one in English and this one in Swedish.)

Something about the story of a humble stable boy standing up to the powerful Herod has captured the imaginations of many. Similar ballads recounting the martyrdom of St. Stephen are found abroad and going back centuries; this tune is related to Saint Stephen and Herod (Child 22 & Roud 3963). In this Swedish version, the words are from Lars Jönsson Vittskövle and the melody is by Otto John Vittskövle.

For my arrangement, I drew on an ostinato pattern taught to me by my wonderful harp teacher Jesse Autumn. It’s a sort of interspersed polyrhythm with 2s and 3s interlaced efter Rüdiger Oppermann and popularized at Lark Camp.

If you’d like to play this tune too, here is sheet music complete with suggested chords (just right-click to save and print the image):

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